Azerbaijan sets up a checkpoint on the road connecting Armenia and Karabakh
On April 23, Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint on the only land link between Armenia and the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, sparking an angry response from Yerevan. “The units of the Azerbaijani Border Service established a border checkpoint on the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan, at the entrance of the Lachin-Khankendi road,” the Azerbaijani state border service said.
Azerbaijan has been demanding for months to establish a checkpoint on the road, known as the Lachin corridor. However, doing so seemingly risked a confrontation with the Russian peacekeepers, who are supposed to be the sole providers of security on the road. When Azerbaijani forces finally managed to install the checkpoint on April 23, though, they did so with no apparent confrontation with the Russians, reports Eurasianet.
Announcing the creation of the checkpoint, Azerbaijan’s State Border Service noted that the Russian peacekeeping contingent “was informed” about the move. Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said that the checkpoint “shall be implemented in interaction with the Russian peacekeeping force.”
According to the Armenian analyst Tigran Grigoryan, “It remains unclear how the peacekeepers, who have fortified positions near the bridge, allowed Azerbaijani forces to carry out this operation.” The checkpoint will have a little immediate impact on the ground: The road had already been effectively blocked since December by a group of Azerbaijani government-sponsored “eco-activists”. It prevented Armenians (at least those unable to pay black-market smuggling prices) from travelling in or out of the territory. But the checkpoint represents another tightening of the noose around Karabakh, writes Eurasianet.
For nearly 24 hours, there was no comment from Moscow, and the peacekeepers’ most recent daily bulletin, released several hours after news broke about the checkpoint, did not mention it at all. In the afternoon of April 24, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement in which it didn’t mention the checkpoint directly or the peacekeepers’ actions vis-a-vis its establishment. The statement suggested both sides were to blame, criticising “unagreed changes in the functioning regime of the Lachin corridor or attempts to use it for aims inconsistent with a peaceful agenda.”
Armenian authorities blamed Russia for the checkpoint. At a government session on April 27, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh should control the Lachin corridor and ensure its regular operation. “Apart from Russia, no one else should exercise control in the Lachin corridor. Azerbaijan should not impede the free movement through the corridor. This is stipulated in the November 9, 2020, trilateral statement,” he said. Similar criticism was later repeated by the Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan.
In her reaction, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that it was essential that the official Yerevan contribute to the search for mutually acceptable solutions after Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor on April 23, effectively obstructing the movement of people and traffic from and to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Furthermore, on May 1, the de facto authorities in Stepanakert accused the Russian peacekeepers of tricking residents of Nagorno-Karabakh into passing through the Azerbaijani checkpoint on the Lachin corridor, falsely promising that they would not have to undergo checks by the Azerbaijani border troops.
Icheri, Azerbaijan. Photo: Shutterstock.com